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Wednesday, 07 August 2019 07:00

Discernment Tip 2: Take a Step

 2019.43.Discernment Tip 2.main blog image

I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I hear the word ‘discerning’ I imagine someone sitting in a lotus position in a chapel with their eyes closed waiting for some kind of answer to literally fall into their lap.  While praying is one part of the discernment process, and probably the most important, it is just that: one part.  If you’re genuinely seeking God’s will in your life, here’s a bunch of ways that you can add some movement to your discernment that will really give you something to pray about!

  1. Find a spiritual director or someone to guide you. It might not be easy to find someone, and you probably can’t expect it to necessarily be for free, either.  But if your future is important to you then surely it’s worth the investment of your time and money - (more about this in a few days time).
  1. Book a retreat. Someone once told me that if you want the answer to any question, go on an eight-day retreat.  I don’t know if that’s a big overstatement, but what I do know is that when I’d had enough and was busting to know what God wanted me to do with my life, I booked a five-day retreat and felt a clear and genuine call to religious life.  This may not happen to you exactly, but it may be an important step along the way.
  1. Commit to a simple but regular prayer life. So one session on your knees in the chapel may be all that you need to discern God’s will for your life.  Lucky you!  For the rest of us poor souls, we’re going to need to make weekday Mass and set prayer times a part of our routine and prioritise them over and above other things in our calendar and hope that by listening for God’s voice day after day we might begin to hear the call on his lives in a clearer way.  
  2. Pick up the phone. Or send an email.  If you’re genuinely discerning a particular course of action, you’ll need to do some research, ask questions and observe what happens in you as you do this.  This means actually having contact with a religious order, or making it a priority to get to know married couples and see what their life is like.  Most people are really happy to share their life and their story with you if they know it will be helpful for you in your process of discernment.  This will also help to kill any preconceived ideas you may have about a particular way of life and get down to the reality of what your future might hold.
  3. Read a good book. There are so many great resources out there to inspire you in the spiritual life.  If you’re thinking about consecrated life, then the stories of the saints can be really inspirational for you to see life through the eyes of someone who gave their whole life to God.  I remember the day I entered the MGLs reading a book about St Clare and being so excited and on fire to begin this life that I literally could not stop talking as the Sisters came to collect me from the airport.
  4. Exercise like St Ignatius. If you are sick of feeling like discernment is a vague process of navel gazing, then St Ignatius might be the man to help you.  There are many Ignatian-inspired approaches to discernment that you can practice that could help to make things more concrete and grounded for you in your discernment. 

His exercises include things like imagining that you are advising another person and seeing what advice would you give to them in your situation, or imagining you are on your death bed (bit full on, I know!) and imagining if there would be some regret at not having pursued a particular course of life, or finally (equally full on) standing before God on judgement day and presenting to him the path that you have chosen and lived. 

Another powerful exercise of St Ignatius is to list the advantages and disadvantages of the courses of action that you are considering, make a decision based on which list carries more ‘weight’ (not necessarily more items) and then sit with this decision for a day or longer to see if there is a sense of peace about it.  Alternatively, Ignatius also suggests to live for a day (or a week or month) as though you have made a particular decision, and then see how this sits with you (is there peace and contentment or restlessness and unease?)  Similarly, you might like to simply complete the sentence “in ten years I would like to be…” and see what kind of picture you can imagine for your ideal future life.

(If you’re keen for more of this, I’ve heard Timothy Gallagher’s book Discerning the Will of God is an excellent practical resource.)

  1. Enjoy the present!

If ultimately God’s will is that we would have life to the full, then surely part of that is to simply praise him and give thanks for all the blessings he is giving to us in the here and now.  I’ve heard several times now from people who are now married or in religious life that their only regret is not enjoying their years of single life more and the worry and fretting they did about their future.  Single life can be really hard to live, it’s true, but there must be something in truly taking in the present moment that will enable us to see God’s presence in everyday life, no matter what our vocation.  Doing an Ignatian Examen at the end of each day or keeping a list of the gifts of each day (as in Ann Voskamp’s beautiful book, One Thousand Gifts) could be helpful to get moving in this way!

So now there’s no excuses for thinking that discerning is not a verb...is it time to get moving?

Berna Toohey